Wears Wears Out

August 30th, 2015

Doctor Wears confides, in a new paper, about the depths of his training:

DrWearsWorn Out by Fatigue Training,” Robert L. Wears [pictured here], MD, PhD, Annals of Emergency Medicine, vol. 66, no. 3, September 2015, pp. 334-335. (Thanks to Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.) Dr. Wears, at the University of Florida and also at Imperial College London, writes:

I was sitting quietly in our department’s faculty meeting, trying to surreptitiously catch up on some reading while appearing politely attentive. This is academic medicine’s equivalent of “just walking down the street, minding my own business”—when the equivalent of ‘and then some dude shot me’ jolted me back to the meeting; it was the distantly heard phrase ‘mandatory training.’ My heart sank….

I went back to my office to do my duty. The video was called ‘Fatigue Training,’ so napping through it somehow seemed just right. I propped my feet on my desk and settled down to protect myself against that demon, fatigue….

As I was ‘training,’ I drifted off, no doubt because— surprise—I was fatigued. I began to dream about all the mandatory training I’ve taken in the past few years, and the pile of official-looking certificates I’ve got to keep track of, and to produce at a moment’s notice to maintain hospital privileges, board eligibility, or general membership in polite society…

[Eventually] I suddenly awoke—alone, in my office, sweating, mildly tachycardic, but blessedly alone. My secretary came in to ask if I was all right. ‘I thought I heard you call out,’ she said. ‘No, not me; must have been the wind,’ I lied. ‘But I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Fatigue Training has worn me out.’

BONUS: Here is one of many fatigue training videos available to you. This particular one is for Australian truck drivers:

Inspired by pancakes: Further findings on the flatness of Kansas

August 29th, 2015

Joshua Campbell and his colleague Jerome E. Dobson, inspired by the article “Kansas is Flatter Than a Pancake,” did some research on their own. Campbell tells about it in his  Disruptive Geo blog:

The Flatness of U.S. States

It all started with delicious pancakes and a glorified misconception. In a 2003 article published in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), researchers claimed to scientifically prove that “Kansas is Flatter Than a Pancake” (Fonstad et al., 2003). The experiment compared the variation in surface elevation obtained from a laser scan of an IHOP pancake and an elevation transect across the State of Kansas. And while the researchers’ conclusion is technically correct…


Now, I can take a joke, and at the time thought the article was clever and funny. And while I still think it was clever, it began to bother me that the erroneous and persistent view that Kansas is flat, and therefore boring, would have negative economic consequences for the state. I grew up on the High Plains of southwestern Kansas…

As luck would have it, a few years after the AIR article I found an opportunity to work on this question of flatness and how to measure it. As part of my PhD coursework I was investigating the utility of open source geospatial software as a replacement for proprietary GIS and needed a topic that could actually test the processing power of the software. Combining my background in geomorphology and soil science with a large terrain modeling exercise using the open source stack offered the perfect opportunity to address the question of flatness. What emerged from that work was published last year (2014) in the Geographical Review as a paper coauthored with Dr. Jerry Dobson entitled “The Flatness of U.S. States” (Dobson and Campbell, 2014).

Here are citations for the two studies:
Dobson, J. E., & Campbell, J. S. (2014). The Flatness of U.S. States. Geographical Review, 104(1), 1–9.
Fonstad, M., Pugatch, W., & Vogt, B. (2003). Kansas is Flatter Than a Pancake. Annals of Improbable Research, 9(3), 16–17.

Evaluating a fake teacher (à la a fake babe on a dating site)

August 28th, 2015

Two medical educators injected a fake teacher into an evaluate-your-teachers survey, in a medical school. Ivan Oransky, writing in MedPage Today, describes the study and the incident that motivated those two medical educators:

Dear medical school faculty members, here’s a question that may come to mind as the new academic year gets underway: What if you earned an evaluation for a course you hadn’t taught?

00-Sebastian-UYou might keep it to yourself, I suppose, if the evaluation was good. But if it was just average — as happened to Sebastian Uijtdehaage, PhD [pictured here], of the Geffen UCLA School of Medicine in 2006 — you might be “flummoxed.”

In fact, if you’re Uijtdehaage, the episode might raise “the sticky question of whether medical students are completing [teaching evaluations] mindlessly, without due diligence,” and might prompt you to study the subject — which Uijtdehaage and his colleague Christopher O’Neal, PhD, did.

The researchers went so far as to  include a photo “of an attractive young model who, perhaps regretfully, did not resemble any of our faculty members.” That fake teacher-babe drew some responses — though fewer responses when her picture was included than when she was a mere textual description.

The study itself is: “A curious case of the phantom professor: mindless teaching evaluations by medical students,” Sebastian Uijtdehaage and Christopher O’Neal, Medical Education, Volume 49, Issue 9, September 2015, pages 928–932.

Solar powered owl systems (new patent)

August 28th, 2015

In a new (07 July 2015) US patent, inventor Lucy D. Thomas of Fontana, California, describes ‘Solar Powered Owl Systems‘.


It features not only yellow LED eyes, and a 360 degree rotatable head, but also has ultrasonic screech capabilities.

Note: Patent documents are sometimes inclined towards using quite long sentences.

Bonus Question: Why?

“A pest deterrent system comprising: a deterrent assembly including; a housing having; a head portion including; at least two eyes; at least two ears; and a beak; a body portion; a left wing; a right wing; a left foot; and a right foot; at least one motion sensor; at least one speaker; a plurality of illuminators; a powerer; electrical wiring; at least one power storer; an adjustable mounting plate; a plurality of fasteners; an elevated stand assembly having; a crossbar; an elevating-rod; at least one mounting lug; and a through-pin; wherein said deterrent assembly comprises in combination said housing, said at least one motion sensor, said at least one speaker, said plurality of illuminators, said powerer, said electrical wiring, said at least one power storer, said adjustable mounting plate, said elevated stand assembly; wherein said housing in combination comprises said head portion, said body portion, said left wing, said right wing, said left foot, and said right foot; wherein said housing resembles a bird of prey;

Click to continue reading “Solar powered owl systems (new patent)”

Trying to measure the iffiness of lots of psych research

August 27th, 2015

Many psychologists try to measure things that are tough to measure — and many of those many do it iffily. The Reproducibility Project is trying to measure how iffy those measurements are. They published a study called “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” about their progress.

Psychological ScienceBenedict Carey tells about this, in a New York Times article called “Many Psychology Findings Not as Strong as Claimed, Study Says.”

Ed Yong tells about it, in an Atlantic article called “How Reliable Are Psychology Studies?

You might be able to tell something about it by skimming through titles and abstracts of studies published in Psychological Science.

Psychological Science is the top-of-the-line psychology research journal assembled by the top-of-the-line association of psychologists, the Association for Psychological Science (also known as the APS). An overlapping top-of-the-line association of psychologists, the APA, is known these days for the way some of its recent leaders relate to the activity that people other than those leaders call “torture”.

BONUS: Here’s how some (hard to say how much, but the Reproducibility Project might one day be able to say something) of the most iffy research can happen: “Science Isn’t Broken
It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for“, by Christie Aschewanden, on the FiveThirtyEight web site.